Tonya Boyd: Bypassing The Firewall

BY JON CRONIN

Deputy Chief Tonya Boyd knows how it feels to break the glass ceiling. She is the first African American woman to become deputy chief in the New York City Fire Department.

On Nov. 2, 2017, she was appointed to the position by FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro. The commissioner and FDNY brass had reviewed her decades-long performance in the fire department before arriving at the decision.

Boyd began at the FDNY 21 years ago, shortly after the city’s Emergency Medical Services merged with the fire department. She said that she was inspired by her grandmother and great-aunt, who were both nurses and had initially planned to go down that career path. While pursuing a career as a nurse, Boyd qualified to become an emergency medical technician (EMT) in 1993.

“It wasn’t my plan to stay with or join the FDNY,” she said.

She recalled that a friend was studying to be an EMT—and since Boyd was studying to be a nurse, her friend asked if Boyd could help her.

Boyd wound up taking the EMT course along with her friend and then went on to apply to the FDNY.

“It was at least a year or two before I fell in love with the fire department,” Boyd said, adding that she loved being the first on the scene during emergencies as well as the interactions with patients and other first responders. “In a male-dominated field, my challenges were different. I felt like we need to be 150 percent just to get noticed.”

Boyd said that at the time she started with the FDNY, the job was organized in such a way that men were used to working around other men in the department. But she noted that “women are not acknowledged in plenty of fields.”

“I learned to have tough skin,” she said, “I focused on what I could do to move forward.”

During an interview with NBC in December 2017, Boyd was asked how her role at the FDNY could inspire other African American women to pursue a career with the department.

“Prior to this, they never saw anyone at this rank who looked like me, so now what it says is—there’s possibility,” she said. “Anything is possible. If you work hard, if you stay motivated and you put in the time, you can achieve it. That glass ceiling is broken, so let’s do it.”

In 2004, her superiors encouraged her to move forward and apply to become a lieutenant. She said her supervisors noticed that as new EMTs arrived on the job, Boyd would teach and train them. Soon afterward, Boyd also took the exam to become a paramedic, which gave her the ability to administer intravenous fluids and medications.

Today, as a deputy chief in Queens, Boyd has the role of division commander. She is responsible for Emergency Medical Services, the response to incidents with mass casualties in the borough, any incidents involving five or more patients, and the allocation of resources to those incidents. Currently, she has eight stations under her command, with 150 personnel in each station.

Boyd grew up in Brooklyn and came through the ranks there, but she currently lives in Queens, is engaged and has two children—both boys.

Reach reporter Jon Cronin via email at jcronin@queenstribune.com or by phone at (718) 357-7400, ext. 125.

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